"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship [or community, koinonía] of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” This passage, taken from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, is familiar to many of us, for it is often used as the greeting in our liturgy. If we look at it carefully, we will see that it serves not only as a prayer, but also as a profession of faith in our triune God. How appropriate, then, that we reflect on its meaning on this feast of the Most Holy Trinity.
The Trinity is not only a mystery that puzzles us; it is also a fascination that continues to capture our imagination. How can three persons constitute one God? St. Patrick’s three-leaf clover is a clever image, but still far from adequate. From the very earliest centuries of Christianity, theologians have painstakingly struggled to find the words to explain precisely each dimension of this divine mystery. They may have succeeded with precise definitions, but these statements have not really clarified the mystery of a triune God.
The Gospel for today provides some insight into how the early Christians perceived the relationship between two of the divine persons. There we read that God sent the Son (Jesus) into the world, “that the world might be saved through him.” The Father-Son language implies an intimate relationship between the two. It also suggests that salvation is initiated by God and accomplished through Jesus. The real focus of the reading shifts from the nature of God in God’s self to the activity of God in our lives.
The other readings for today invite us to reflect on various other aspects of this divine activity. In the passage from Exodus we are told that God reveals the divine name, Lord (YHWH), to Moses. This is followed by further divine revelation. God is “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Though not a definition, this might well be the best description of God to be found in our entire religious tradition. It may not provide us with precise philosophical concepts, but it reveals the face that God turns toward us, a face that is certainly a true likeness of God.
This passage contains three technical covenant words: merciful, a word that comes from the Hebrew for womb and suggests God’s intimate attachment to us; kindness, sometimes translated “steadfast love,” which indicates the tenacity of God’s commitment to us; and fidelity, which points to God’s trustworthiness in our regard. This characterization of God appears in the Exodus story after the people have sinned against God by offering homage to the golden calf (Exodus 32). Moses refers to them as “a stiff-necked people.” It is to such people that God shows kindness.
How important it is for us to remember this, lest we think that God’s mercy and graciousness are rewards granted those who are faithful. No! God enters into covenant with and is gracious and merciful toward sinners, stiff-necked people like you and me. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,” of which Paul speaks, is given to those who do not deserve it; “the love of God” is showered on sinners; “the fellowship [community] of the Holy Spirit” is granted to those who are unworthy. It is the mystery of such unbounded generosity that we celebrate on this feast.
The challenge of faith placed before us by this feast is not one of comprehension; for try as we might, we will never really understand the mystery of the Trinity. Rather, it is a challenge of acceptance. We are invited to believe in God’s tender working in our lives, and such conviction should prompt us to live out fully that faith.
This is more a day for humble gratitude and renewed commitment than for theological speculation, as important as such speculation may be. As we reflect on God’s goodness in our lives, we will begin to appreciate Moses’ response. The mystery of God’s goodness overwhelmed him, and he “bowed down to the ground in worship.” We have all been touched by God’s grace, God’s love and God’s fellowship, and so we all have much for which to be grateful. We might make the responsorial psalm our own, praising God who is there described as almighty in the heavens, but whose glory is best known to us in the blessings we experience in our own lives.
This feast also calls us to commit ourselves to communion with others. Once again it is Paul who shows us what this means: “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace.” The Most Holy Trinity is the perfect example of unity in diversity. We most resemble this God when we live in loving harmony with one another.